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 The History of  DC Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona

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The Original Owners of DC Ranch

By Nancy Lucas

Last year, The Peak ran a story about E.E. Brown, the original owner of DC Ranch. Unfortunately, it contained inaccuracies. I received a phone call from Cindy Lewis, great granddaughter of E. O. Brown, Betty Crews, Brownie’s niece by marriage, and Verna Zimmerman, Robert Zimmerman’s daughter–in–law, and a letter from Virgie Brown, widow of Alvin "Cotton" Brown, informing me of my errors.

Rather than chastise me, Cindy, Betty and Verna treated me to a delightful afternoon of stories and recollections, and a tour of their dairy farm in Queen Creek. I spent a charming afternoon with Virgie Brown and her daughter, Jeryl Varsolona, at their home in Cottonwood. And I spoke on the telephone to Brownie’s son, E.O., who took me on a journey through time.

I promised to make things right. Although later than planned, here is the story of E.E. "Brownie" Brown and his family and descendants. Thank you Cindy, Betty, Verna, Virgie, Jeryl and E.O. for setting me straight.

Over the ages, many people have inhabited the western slopes of the McDowell Mountains — ancient man, the Hohokam and Yavapai peoples, and the U.S. Army. The area’s history as DC Ranch, however, begins in 1885, when Dr. W. B. Crosby purchases land and registers the "DC" ("D"octor "C"rosby) brand. The Brown family enters the picture in 1919 when E.O. Brown purchases the ranch. In 1940, the ranch conveys to E.O.’s son, E.E. "Brownie" Brown. In 1963, Brownie and business partner, Kemper Marley, register the brand as joint tenants. After E.E.’s death, the brand transfers to Kemper Marley. Today, the famous brand belongs to DMB Associates as part of their 8,300–acre home, retail and golf course development.

Since 1919, DC Ranch has passed from generation to generation of Browns. Concurrently, the cattle industry in Scottsdale has begun and ended, and Scottsdale has grown from a hamlet with a handful of pioneers to a city of more than 250,000 citizens. The Brown family’s story is so closely intertwined with all these events that the story of one must include the story of the others.

Edwin Orpheus (E.O.) Brown and his wife, Mary Jane Coldwell Brown were the first Browns to set foot in Arizona. They came to Scottsdale in 1904 at the request of Mary Jane’s sister, Sarah Thomas. Sarah and her husband had arrived from Illinois in 1899, seeking treatment for tuberculosis. Sarah’s husband died in 1902, and she used his insurance check to buy a post office and general store. Her store catered to ranchers, who often brought in their wagons for a year’s supplies. The store sold items ranging from Indian baskets to windmills.

When Sara Thomas succumbed in 1913, she left her land and store to E.O. and Mary Jane and asked them to raise her two surviving children, Grace Ellen and George Thomas. The two were added to the family and raised along with the Brown’s four children, Alvin, Elsworth Edwin (E.E., who became known as Brownie), Benton Russell, and daughter Ruth. The close–knit Brown clan has ever since carried on their tradition of family taking care of family.

E.O. was a highly respected member of the community. He was responsible for much of the early development in Scottsdale. He served as postmaster, school trustee, and irrigation director. He was vice president of Western Oil Company, president of the Scottsdale Cotton Gin Company, and controlling stockholder of Farmer’s State Bank of Scottsdale. He also owned the water works and local ice plant. To supply water to the town, he drilled several wells and also brought water from the filtration plant on the Verde River. Downtown’s Brown Avenue is named in his honor for his many contributions to the young city of Scottsdale.

E.O. cleared desert land to prepare it for agricultural use. He also raised cattle. According to his obituary, "He cleared desert growth from much of the agricultural land in the vicinity of Scottsdale. Until development of huge cotton and citrus acreages, he fed cattle in valley lands, then in 1916 moved his cattle northwards to a ranch in the McDowell Mountains district. There he drilled three wells to develop water."

Ranch acreage grew from land purchased and from land received from homesteaders who used it to pay their debts at the store. Also, the Browns homesteaded some of the land. According to laws at the time, a homesteader could claim up to 320 acres of stock–raising land if they paid the required government fees and after five years could demonstrate that they had made "improvements" to the property. In the 1920s, E.O. built a home with wooden floors. The home was basic but a big step up from the usual "claim shacks," which were little more than four thin walls and a leaky roof. The house became the family’s summer retreat. The homestead was close to a spring, which he eventually purchased, that pumped three gallons of water a minute, assuring a source of water in dry years. Their garden was an oasis.

Over time, the ranch grew to 44,000 acres, 23,000 acres were deeded, the remainder was state and federal leased land. It was referred to as the Lower Ranch, which ran from Pinnacle Peak Road south to Shea, and the Upper Ranch, which stretched north from Pinnacle Peak Road for about six miles. The western boundary was Scottsdale Road. The eastern edge rose up to the summit of the McDowell Mountains. The Lower Ranch had the spring, but the Upper Ranch’s more favorable grazing conditions made it the hub of cattle operations.

E.O. was a businessman who owned a cattle ranch, he depended on foreman Harvey Noriega to maintain the property and manage day–to–day ranch operations. Noriega lived in a basic dwelling on the Upper Ranch, and managed both the Upper and Lower areas. When Noriega retired, E.O. deeded him two lots on Second Street in Scottsdale, where he lived until his death a few years ago at age 105.

Life on the ranch was rugged and solitary, except during roundups. Cowboys came from all around to be part of the roundup. Meals on the ranch were prepared by legendary cook "Chicken Henry." The cowboys’ breakfast was usually a stale biscuit and some beef jerky before riding out, and lunch was another fistful of beef jerky consumed while on the range. In the evenings when all the cowboys came in, they shared a communal dinner. E.O. recalls times when, too young to take part in the roundup, he would spend the day at the house helping Chicken Henry rustle up the evening meal. Chicken Henry would give E.O. a big pan full of jerky. E.O’s job was to pound it to a pulp, which they used as the base for jerky gravy. The rich gravy was poured over the biscuits and beans. "I can still taste that gravy," E.O. said. They finished off their meals with peach cobbler for dessert.

Cowboys rounded up the cattle and divided them into two groups: those who went to feeding pastures in California to fatten up and those who went to slaughter. Following the roundup and branding, the family and cowhands led the cattle south. They kicked up huge clouds of dust as they meandered down then unpaved Scottsdale and Pima roads. People stopped to watch as the parade of cowboys, cattle and horses passed by. It took two or three days to travel between the stockyards downtown and the ranch, depending on the weather and size of the herd. Not all the cattle survived the hot, dusty and dry trip. Occasionally, a steer would fall over dead from dehydration.

In 1920, E.O.’s daughter, Ruth, married Robert Zimmerman, an immigrant from Germany, lured to Arizona by the adventure of the American West. He worked on DC Ranch hauling supplies and married the boss’s daughter. In 1923, Ruth and Robert started the Scottsdale Dairy. When growth encroached to closely in 1972, they moved to Gilbert. Today, the Zimmerman Dairy is located in Queen Creek and is run by four generations of Zimmermans. Grace Allen, E.O.’s niece, married Arthur Crews in 1918, and they built a home on Main Street. Grace taught school at the Little Red Schoolhouse and was one of the first to be placed in the Scottsdale Hall of Fame.

E.E. "Brownie" loved ranch life and was involved in ranch operations as a teenager. When his father, E.O., died in 1937 he inherited the ranch and continued to shape its growth and progress. He was a true cowboy and worked alongside the ranch hands butchering cows, shoeing horses and tending to the stock. He ate dinner and often camped out with the cowboys, on his bedroll under the starry skies. He often spent weeks out at the ranch without venturing into town. His sons and grandsons spent time with him on the ranch riding, rounding up livestock and branding.

Brownie and wife, Merle, had four children, Alvin "Cotton," Edwin Oscar "E.O.," Gene and Ann. Their official residence was "in town," on Brown Street, next to the bank and ice plant established by Brownie’s father, E.O. The women lived in town, though at the time "town" was rural in character and populated by few more than a handful of souls. The Brown women visited the ranch on special occasions, like family picnics, and were well–acquainted with ranch activities. Although ladies riding horseback were not the norm, all the Brown women were accomplished horsewomen.

"I know more about ranch life than anybody else," said. E.O., Brownie’s son, now 80 years old and residing in Cottonwood. Listening to his memories, I, too, was transported back to those days. Being stung by a scorpion and spending the entire day bumping along dusty roads in a Model A to get to a doctor. Being lowered down a well in a bucket to scrub the insides. Counting among his friends the Cavalliere and Judson (of Judson School) kids, the latter of which defeated many a cowboy in a game of poker. Without his dad’s knowledge, taking his sheriff’s car on a ride with sirens and lights blaring. Watching his dad set up a borrowed still, and later hearing to it explode. Hunting quail with a shotgun, picking and cleaning them, and having them for supper. Driving a tractor across the Verde River out to a friend’s ranch near Four Peaks, which would not be possible today.

Brownie and Merle divorced in 1942 and he later married Goldie Chrisman. For Goldie, he built a new, two–room brick home with a wood stove and a fireplace on the Upper Ranch, about five miles north of Reata Pass. From all reports, Goldie was a person to be reckoned with, an independent woman who did pretty much as she pleased. Goldie and Brownie lived in the ranch house and were great friends of Doc and Marge Cavalliere, owners of Reata Pass and Greasewood Flat eating establishments. They spent many evenings together enjoying food, drinks and conversation. It was during this period that Brownie was appointed a Maricopa County deputy sheriff, and served as Arizona State Livestock Inspector for a few years.

Big Brownie was prominent in Scottsdale, in both influence and physical size. In 1965, Arizona Republic columnist Don Dedera describes him as, "a mountain of a man, with a personality of granite. He has a bellow like a fire horn, a frown like a thunderstorm and the patience of a range bull at fly time." Betty Crews recalls him as someone who enjoyed "raising hell." His daughter–in–law, Virgie Brown, remembers him as about 6'4" and more than 250 pounds. Granddaughter, Jeryl Brown Varsolona, remembers him visiting her at the Sugar Bowl, where she was a waitress, and downing two huge ice cream sundaes in one sitting. E.O. recalls him working in the ice plant, carrying with tongs two 300–pound blocks of ice, one in each hand. By all he is recalled as a hardworking man of integrity, who enjoyed his family and liked to have a good time, all with very little scandal. Astride his 17–hand, sorrel horse, "Star," with his ever–present Colt .45 strapped to his side and his ever–present cigar stuck in his mouth, he was quite an imposing figure.

After WWII, Brownie became partners in the ranch with his lifelong friend, Kemper Marley. Their friendship had begun with their fathers’ long association. Brownie and Kemper would meet with other cattlemen at the Pink Pony or the cattleman’s bar at the Adams Hotel in Phoenix and make deals sealed with a handshake and a couple of VO’s and water. Brownie was rich in land but lacking in cash. Kemper Marley had grown up with ranching and was also an astute businessman with wide political and business connections. Brownie and Kemper were both men of few words and strong opinions who were willing to take risks.

During their partnership, they grew and improved the ranch. Much of DC Ranch was on government–leased land. They arranged to buy land in California that the government needed, and traded the California land for land they were leasing at DC Ranch. They tapped the natural spring and piped water throughout the ranch. They eventually had more than 4,000 head of cattle and 44,000 acres of land, or 64 "sections" (a section is equal to 640 acres). They dug several wells and built windmills to pump the water. They installed pipes to carry water to holding tanks. The windmills were irresistible targets to passers–by who riddled them with bullets. Big Brownie’s presence, however, was a strong deterrent. When he was riding the range, there wasn’t a problem.

In the 1950s, the ranch was at its peak. Buildings were improved, and pens and pastures were enclosed by wooden fences. Hereford and purebred Brahmas replaced Mexican longhorns. Electricity and paved roads were added, and radios and telephones connected the ranch to the outside world. The city was becoming a resort, and real estate investors were turning their eyes to the land in the north, recently annexed by the rapidly growing City of Scottsdale. The 1950s was also the time of the last cattle drive from DC Ranch to Phoenix.

When Brownie died in 1966, the land was split between his children and Kemper Marley, sometime later it was purchased by developers. Goldie contested her pre–nuptial agreement and ended up owning a good portion of the land around the home on the Upper Ranch. Goldie passed away in the 1970s. Her property was divided between her relatives and her lawyer (as payment for the work she did in contesting the pre–nuptial agreement).

Years later, Kemper Marley was implicated, but never charged, in the murder of Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic investigative reporter who was looking into connections between Arizona businessmen, including Marley, and reputed Mafia members. It was a sensational story that was covered on national news programs for years.

The City of Scottsdale purchased much of the Upper Ranch, and it is now part of the McDowell Mountain Preserve. Part of the Lower Ranch is the current DC Ranch planned community, and part of the Lower Ranch is included in the Preserve.

This tale has the ingredients of a best–selling book — spirited heroes and heroines shaping history and the romance of the West. It’s a tale that is still being told in the lives of E.O. Brown’s descendants and all the people of Scottsdale. The story enriches our experience and understanding of our special corner of the world. It’s also a reminder that we’re just here for a while, and someday we’ll pass it along to